Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.


41. The Legend Part 1

As the primordial avian flashed towards them in a blaze of fire and smoke, it seemed to regress into a lesser state. The fires that made up its body weakened and dimmed, its feathers actually discernable from the inferno now. Instead of the wrath of fire made manifest, Moltres had fallen to become a mere Fire Bird.

The golden flame that consumed its body appeared only as tiny trickles of fire left in its wake, although its lustrous feathers, far more majestic than even Plume's, shined brightly in the sunlight. Moltres' crest and wings no longer distorted the air of the peak and dimmed to torches instead of explosions of flame and power.

Now that the inferno inspired by Moltres' mere presence had shriveled into little more than the odd explosion of fire and ash, he was able to make out the form of Moltres' shrine again. The flames that danced along the crude mockery of the Legend before him were little more than shifting embers, but embers that burned even brighter than before, a sign that Moltres restrained its might.

Ash gasped in relief as the crushing weight of Moltres' presence lessened dramatically, but barely had time to bask in the feeling before he and Lance were yanked away in a flash of light. He barely managed to catch the light of Dazed's psychic power before they vanished.

He winced as they suddenly collapsed just a few feet away from where they were before. It looked like Moltres didn't want them leaving. Ash coughed briefly before he looked up. His eyes widened as he spied Moltres' blazing form, still afire with power, high in the air. It screeched yet again, but the inferno that erupted from the volcano's chasm leapt only a few feet, proof of its weakened power.

A large gloved hand suddenly gripped his shoulder and pulled him upward. Ash blinked in surprise before Lance's shouts were actually intelligible. "Come on! We need to get away from the battle!"

Ash took one last glance at Moltres, who patiently hung over the volcano's peak in a haze of warped air and fire. Its eyes, which had dimmed along with its strength, watched Ash and Lance carefully. He shook himself out of it and ran with Lance as the Champion fervently pulled him along.

Their teams followed them to a point, although the powerful pokemon halted about halfway to the steep cliff of the volcano and turned to face the Legend that stared down at them with its calm eyes. Once Ash and Lance reached what they assumed was a safe position, they turned to watch and help their teams in the battle.

Ash wasn't surprised when he saw that his friends knelt in reverence to the Legend. When he glanced up at the Champion, who had a spark of glee in his eyes at the power of a true Legend, there was no expression of astonishment. It was as though he had expected the teams' reaction.

Moltres suddenly acted. It gave another shriek, which was discernable as its own noise instead of the rumbling of Mt. Ember, and suddenly pointed its long, shark beak of hardened magma to the air and shot an enormous column of flame, a hundred feet wide at its largest point and immeasurably long, high into the sky. The flames' smoke formed its own cloud and obscured the battlefield from the brilliant rays of the sun.

His fists tightened as the formerly bright day was suddenly cast in unnatural shadow. Moltres was the lone light in the gray, a brilliant inferno that left the world around it dank and lifeless in comparison.

The Bird stared at Ash and Lance calmly, serene in its unassailable power. Ash knew its message. It was waiting to see if they were still willing to test their strength against that of a Legend. Moltres had reduced itself, but its power was still incomparable to all but the most powerful and determined of fighters.

Lance looked at Ash, directing the same question toward the younger trainer. Ash momentarily thought about taking his friends and leaving this mountain behind forever, but he opted against common sense in this case. The Champion had put his time and energy into training Ash into an even more powerful trainer. To stand with the Champion in this trial by fire was the least he could do.

He nodded, and silently hoped that he hadn't chosen poorly.

That was all Lance needed. "Triad!" The Champion roared. "Evasion. Anti-fire."

The Champion's impressive pokemon reacted with the speed of lightning. In the time it took Ash to blink Dragonite, Dov, and Saph had already erupted into the air, Aerodactyl and Magnus not far behind. Gyarados and Mael stayed on the ground, although both of the ocean titans moved far apart. Magnus and Aerodactyl took to the air, but stayed back.

Moltres glanced at the Champion's team with its burning eyes as the trio of Dragonite flashed around it with speed unmatched by almost any other pokemon. Ash could barely catch the briefest flashes of an immense Blizzard that matched Ice Storm from Saph, a Fire Blast that was tiny in comparison to Moltres' casual stream of flame from Dragonite, and a great discharge of electricity from Dov.

Ash watched with awe as Moltres suddenly flapped its great wings. A wave of fire and heat great enough to distort the air around the Fire Bird suddenly exploded from the gently burning avian. The Dragonite barely managed to avoid the deceptively powerful puff of fire and energy, although Dov was clipped by it. He recoiled backward in pain, but caught up with his teammates soon enough.

It was then that Mael and Gyarados made their move. Both of the powerful water-types roared and rumbled as they shot immense blasts of water toward the great avian, which hadn't moved since the battle began.

He watched eagerly as the jets of water shot toward Moltres with enough force to cut through stone, only to wilt when it evaporated several feet before it would have struck the bird. Moltres remained still and didn't retaliate, seemingly bored with the futile attacks.

Lance scowled at the Bird before he looked at Ash. "My team is about to attack again. Hit it while it's distracted."

Ash didn't say anything, but nodded. He comfortingly patted Sneasel, who still clutched fiercely to his back and hid his face, and Seeker, who squeaked from inside of his pack, before he wiped some of the sweat from his brow and set his eyes into a determined glare.

He reached up to his hat and twisted it around. Ash needed the extra visibility. Moltres' clouds of smoke meant that the intense sunlight that accompanied it wouldn't blind him, so the hat was only a hindrance at the moment.

"Hyper Beam!" Lance roared to his team. The Champion's eyes were narrowed into slits, and his pale skin was red from Moltres' light. As Lance's immensely powerful pokemon each released a devastating beam of orange and gold energy straight toward the Fire Bird that hung serenely in the air, Ash began to command his own friends.

Ash analyzed what he had seen of Moltres so far. It was obviously far more powerful than any of their pokemon, even in its reduced state. The Bird could produce heat powerful enough to transform water into steam without any visible strain and could release fire and energy from its body with the smallest of movements.

Other than that he didn't know much about its capabilities. All Ash knew was that Lance was about to learn the same lesson that he'd taught Ash: There's always something stronger. Amongst humans Lance was a Champion, one of the greatest Masters of all time. Amongst the primordial entities that embodied the elements and slept in faraway places lest they rip the world apart with their power Lance was nothing but a child.

It would be difficult to attack. Ash suspected that most elemental attacks would do little thanks to Moltres' astoundingly powerful flames. He wouldn't even bother with physical attacks, except with Infernus. Moltres would probably never touch the ground anyway. The battle would probably be over in a minute or two, provided the Bird didn't draw it out.

"Nidoking, Oz, Thunderbolt!" Ash shouted, eyes intent upon the Fire Bird as the Hyper Beams, together capable of levelling Pallet Town without too much trouble, sizzled toward Moltres. Moltres cocked its head. Its eyes burned fiercely as it gently flapped its wings and launched high into the air, so fast that Ash could only trace its path thanks to the brilliant fire left in its wake.

Ash wasn't sure if Moltres had dodged because the volley of Hyper Beams would have caused it harm or because it wanted to begin the fight in earnest, but knew that it meant the battle with the Legend had truly begun.

Nidoking and Oz's blasts of electricity shot through the air where Moltres had hovered previously. Ash called out for them to repeat the attack before he started to command his other friends. He could hear Lance shouting beside him, but the blood and adrenaline pounded too fiercely behind his ears for him to really understand it.

"Plume, hit Moltres with Hurricane! Block its fire." He specified. Ash spotted Tangrowth, who excitedly bounced up and down on his red feet, not too far from Torrent. "Tangrowth, Ancient Power. Torrent, Dragon Pulse!"

Plume shot into action the moment she heard his voice. She had already pushed herself into the air, but she had been lazily circling. Now that she had a command, she had focus. The Pidgeot shrieked shrilly as she blurred toward the vastly more powerful avian, right behind the trio of Dragonite. Magnus and Aerodactyl remained far away from the fight, the two vicious pokemon silently awaiting Lance's command.

The air around Moltres distorted as Tangrowth hurled dozens of energy spheres toward the great bird. Thin tongues of red and orange flame, brighter than any natural source, lashed out from its magnificent wings and struck into the many balls of Ancient Power and unleashed a cacophonic explosion that left Ash's ears ringing.

Moltres surrounded itself in a sphere of swirling fire as Torrent's Dragon Pulse neared it, along with another volley of Hyper Beams from Lance's team. Ash shielded his eyes as the attacks all struck the protective shell all at once, their energy released in a single explosion of light and heat.

Perhaps he should have left his hat as it was after all, he mused as his eyes were imprinted with stars. He did his best to rub the spots of light out so that he'd actually be of use to his friends.

His heart sank when he was able to see well enough to realize that Moltres' protective sphere of power was unharmed by the succession of attacks. Ash scowled and looked up to Lance, whose fierce eyes analyzed Moltres with a determined shine.

"Draco Meteor, all of you!" The Champion ordered with a loud shout. His Dragonites and Mael rumbled and shook the earth as they gathered their immense amount of energy. Ash watched in awe as they showed power beyond anything he'd seen in the last month.

In less than five seconds the sphere Moltres hid behind was hammered with comets of bright orange energy that left streaks and flecks of gold in their wake. The explosions that distorted the air with light and sound blinded Ash, although he was prepared to turn away this time.

Ash didn't bother contributing at that moment. He just made sure that he knew where his friends were. They were a safe distance away from Moltres and they had quickly spread out along the slab of stone the battle raged upon. After dealing with Lance's pokemon for a month they knew better than to clump together when dealing with a vastly more powerful foe.

When the assault upon Moltres ended, Ash barely had time to check on the Bird's condition before the sphere, which was not mere fire but what appeared to be hardened fire and light, seamlessly blew outward. He could feel the brutal heat from here.

"Plume!" He cried when he saw that his friend, who had stayed behind the Dragonite trio as they hammered Moltres with all of their power, was caught in the release of fire. Plume gave an earsplitting shriek of pain as the fire, hotter than any other they had faced, washed over her body.

Ash didn't even give himself a chance to see if Plume was alright. He reflexively recalled his frail friend and clipped the pokeball back to his belt with deceptively calm hands. The trainer clenched his fists so tightly that they turned white and glared up at Moltres, which sang its powerful tune as the Dragonite trio was hurled backward by the explosion.

The Dragonite were obviously wounded, but remained in the air and scattered to prevent Moltres from picking them off. Lance scowled darkly and pointed at Moltres. "Magnus, Dragon Breath! Aerodactyl, Rock Tomb!"

Magnus suddenly made his presence known as the mighty Charizard roared with fury and launched itself into the battle. Dark blue flames of a decidedly different nature than those that blazed from Magnus' tail streamed from its maw as it challenged Moltres.

Moltres' burning eyes pulsed with interest and it finally began to move. It was insanely fast, a bolt of living fire to Ash's human eyes. The Fire Bird was instantly pursued by Magnus and the Dragonite, although it was even faster than the Dragonite trio. Aerodactyl kept herself aloft and bared her jagged fangs, but didn't make a move.

The trainer felt himself stumble backwards as the winds whipped up by Moltres' slightest movement buffeted him with their power. As Moltres flew, the air grew unbearably hot, even as it was cooled by the movement of the tempest it stirred. It made his skin feel as though it were on fire.

Ash didn't bother trying to help at this point. His friends were arrayed and ready for whenever Moltres slowed down. It was going too fast for them to have a hope of actually hitting it.

He heard a rapid series of pants on his back as the heat intensified. Ash wiped some of the sweat out of his eyes and looked back at Sneasel, who was absolutely miserable. His thick, luxurious fur was dampened with sweat and the dark-type's red eyes pleaded with Ash to recall him. The moment he realized how badly off Sneasel was, Ash did so.

"Dragonite, Triad!" Lance shouted. His cape fluttered in the winds and heat caused by Moltres' flight, but Ash was more focused upon Dragonite. The cornerstone of the Champion's team gave a low, keening cry and swooped after Moltres.

Dragonite was suddenly consumed with the fury of the elements. Icy air filled with shards of razor ice whistled from Dragonite's breath, a great corona of flame erupted immediately after, and electricity arced and sizzled between Dragonite's antennae.

The dragon roared and launched the Blizzard, Fire Blast, and Thunder at Moltres simultaneously. Moltres screeched and bolted out of the way in a crackle of flame. The combination slammed into the ebony stone that overlaid the volcano and reduced it to rubble that quickly collapsed into the churning depths of Mt. Ember. Dragonite and the others immediately launched after the Bird, who easily evaded the Champion-level pokemon.

Ash continued to wait. Until Moltres was crippled or slowed down of its own volition he was useless. Plume had been defeated and she was his only option against something faster than a Dragonite. It was impossible to attack Moltres physically, even weakened as it was, due to the overwhelming heat it produced and the fact that it flew. Moltres was too fast to hit with energy or projectiles.

Lance continued to bark out orders, although Ash could barely follow the clash that occurred before his eyes. The Dragonite moved too fast, Magnus and Moltres were little more than blazes of dancing flame, and Gyarados and Aerodactyl simply stayed out of the fight for the moment.

He noted that Moltres hadn't actually gone on the offensive yet. It was content to effortlessly evade and shield against any attacks that threatened it, although every now and then it would release a small blast of flame from its wings. Moltres didn't seem to take the fight seriously, not that Ash could blame it. They were fortunate it hadn't reduced them to piles of smoldering ash for challenging it.

"Now!" Lance suddenly shouted. Ash followed the Champion's gaze over to Aerodactyl, which had ripped an immense hunk of stone off of the mountain's side. It had to have been several tons at the least, but Aerodactyl effortlessly held the stone in place with its mastery over rock.

Aerodactyl screeched and suddenly flapped its wings. The rock-type tore through the air at a speed that no beast of ancient stone should have been able to reach, a single flap of its massive, stone wings enough to propel it several dozen feet.

What was even more impossible was that it brought the hunk of stone with it. Aerodactyl didn't even seem daunted at multitasking and easily slipped into the game that played out in front of it. Ash was able to catch its grey, rocky hide amidst the blurs of gold, tan, orange, and fire.

Much to his surprise Aerodactyl outstripped even the Dragonite trio that futilely fired off blasts of ice and lightning at the Bird, all of which missed. It gained even upon the reduced form of Moltres, which slowly sped up as Aerodactyl's vicious, snapping jaws grew ever closer.

When she was close enough, Aerodactyl screeched and hurled the stone boulder straight at Moltres. Time seemed to slow down as Moltres suddenly flipped around and showed off its true strength.

Moltres didn't screech, but made some ancient, terrifying sound that brought to mind the crackle and roar of flames in its basest form, of wildfires and the infernos that lurked within the heart of the earth. Its golden body flared up as it opened its beak of hardened magma, laced with pulsing orange veins of heat, and let loose a stream of flame, white as the sun, at the boulder.

Ash's eyes widened when thousands of pounds of stone simply melted. The molten remnants of the stone were ripped from Aerodactyl's control and fell into the chasm that opened into Mt. Ember's heart. It vanished, and Aerodactyl, with all of her savagery, simply snarled and rushed toward Moltres with a blur of speed. There was no reverence in her ancient eyes, just a primitive thirst for the superior entity's blood.

Aerodactyl's jaws opened as it neared the Fire Bird's body, her stone hide strong enough to protect her from the primordial entity's heat. She angled upward and prepared to rip into the burning feathers of Moltres' throats, but let out a horrific shriek when Moltres, vastly larger than even the hulking behemoth of stone and fury, launched itself up and snatched Aerodactyl in its burning talons.

Lance's face paled and he smoothly unclipped Aerodactyl's pokeball, but by the time it was ready Moltres had carried Aerodactyl above the cloud of smoke that cast the mountain peak in an overbearing shadow.

"Get her back!" He roared, anger alit in his tone. All of his dragons quickly heeded his command and shot after Moltres, whose speed was enough that it had vanished. Ash watched with worry. Aerodactyl might have been able to resist Moltres' passive aura of heat and fire, but she was nothing compared to the Bird. Moltres' talons melted stone and its breath could reduce a mountain to a heap of magma given a minute or two.

Just as the Dragonite trio and Magnus broke up into the clouds, Ash saw the flash of a supernova above the obscuring layer of dark grey smoke. He hissed in pain and rubbed the stars in his eyes out so he could see what was going on.

"No!" Lance shouted. He began to run forward. Ash looked after him in confusion, but he understood the Champion's fear when he saw a massive, smoking figure that fell through the clouds. Closer inspection revealed it to be Aerodactyl, blackened and unconscious.

Dragonite suddenly swept out of the sky and managed to break Aerodactyl's fall, although the smoking heap of rocky flesh landed with sickening force. Ash assumed that her hide was more than enough to protect her, however. It didn't look like she was seriously injured.

Another sun formed above the cloud of smoke for the briefest of instants, and Dov suddenly dove down, Saph hot on his tail as a stream of white fire chased them with deadly precision. Moltres shrieked and chased them, its fires hot and its eyes red with power.

Ash watched it with a bad feeling. Moltres was still keeping itself weak, but it wasn't simply flying and dodging anymore. The air grew even hotter, and it almost hurt to breathe. He could still make out Moltres' form, but the veil of warped air that followed the burning avian made it difficult to discern details.

Moltres had begun the fight. It was showing what a Legend could do, even one with the majority of its strength sealed away for the safety of the challengers.

"Hyper Beam!" Lance shouted. Ash turned his eyes away just as the Champion's team fired a volley of golden energy beams at Moltres, which slowed down enough for them to actually aim. Once Saph and Dov felt safe, they turned to help their teammates.

The Bird of Fire's eyes pulsed as the Hyper Beams flashed towards its drifting form. It lightly flapped its wings and sent a cascade of orange flame outwards. Each of the Hyper Beams impacted the wall of fire at the same moment, which resulted in an immense explosion of energy.

Ash staggered backwards, but he grinned. This was his chance. "Thunderbolt, Drago Meteor, Psybeam, Solar Beam, Focus Blast, Fire Blast!"

His team instantly leapt into action. This was what their harsh training had led up to, and this was where they would prove their worth once and for all. Each followed their command perfectly, all of their strength poured into the first attack.

Nidoking and Oz fired their Thunderbolts with perfect precision, although the strikes of electricity fizzled out and dispersed as they crackled against the aura of heat that surrounded Moltres. Ash watched that development with interest. It looked like Moltres produced enough heat to have an ability similar to Air Lock. That would cause problems.

Dazed's eyes shined more brightly than ever before as she focused the great power at her disposal into her pendulum. The tiny loop of stone, hewn from the weathered rock of the Seafoam Islands, trembled and flailed wildly upon its string as more and more energy was put into it. By the time she actually fired a Psybeam at Moltres it was by far the most powerful she had ever used, a bright, focused rainbow of energy.

Moltres easily dodged the Psybeam and eyed the newcomers with interest, although it was forced to return its attention to Dragonite after the immensely powerful dragon roared and fired a Hyper Beam straight at the Bird of Fire.

The Legend didn't dodge, but fired a tiny stream of flame, small but intense, straight into the Hyper Beam. As yet another explosion wracked the world, Dragonite was sent flying into the ground. Moltres was silent as it flew over the dragon, nearly defeated from the indirect hit, and flapped. A wave of mercilessly hot air and fire crackled toward Dragonite, but it met a different target instead.

Saph took the finishing move in Dragonite's place. Her blurred form slammed heavily into the ground as she absorbed the bulk of the attack. She whined piteously and went limp, clearly unconscious. Dragonite struggled to its hind legs and his large, ordinarily friendly eyes blazed with protectiveness. He roared and reared his head back in a last attempt to harm the Legend.

Even Lance covered his eyes as a huge sphere of furious energy materialized in front of Dragonite's gaping maw, small particles of bright power yanked and forced together with Dragonite's rage. Moltres simply hovered in the air in a disconcertingly serene manner as it awaited Dragonite's rage-fuelled attack.

Ash could feel the release of the Hyper Beam from where he stood. The air burned even hotter for the briefest of moments before the sphere shifted into a beam that was thin and intense rather than wide and intimidating.

He hissed as a sonic boom split the air, the air itself ripped apart by Dragonite's power. The beam shot towards Moltres' crackling form, but was intercepted by a small stream of flame from Moltres before it could strike the Legend.

Yet another explosion wracked the mountain's peak, this time large enough to make Ash very nearly trip. He barely managed to keep his footing and grinned when he saw that Torrent had prepared Draco Meteor. It had taken a few seconds, but it was the only thing he possessed that even had the potential of injuring Moltres.

Golden comets split from the sphere of bright energy and Torrent did his best to aim them precisely at Moltres. The Legend easily dodged out of the way, however, and released a thin tongue of flame at Torrent.

Ash stepped forward in worry even as Lance returned his unconscious Dragonite. "Protect him!"

Dazed quickly teleported over and yanked Torrent back with her. Ash frowned. It looked like Moltres decided to let them teleport after all. That was good to know in case they needed to make a quick escape.

"Dov, Hurricane!" Lance commanded to his last Dragonite, worry clear in his voice. "Mael, Draco Meteor! Gyarados, Hyper Beam."

Moltres' attention left Ash's team as the Champion's pokemon renewed their assault. It flashed away in a burst of flame as huge comets of energy rained down from the heavens, bright enough to banish the dull gray the cloud left the peak. The Fire Bird easily evaded Gyarados' Hyper Beam and shot high into the air, just beneath the wispy cloud of smoke.

Dov shot up after it with a fearsome roar, his absolutely massive form like a lightning bolt as power crackled around him. A huge gale of wind blew after Moltres, who wasn't even affected by the powerful attack. The Dragonite growled again and fired off a Hyper Beam, which Moltres easily intercepted with a tiny lick of flame that extended from its wings.

Moltres smoothly flipped in the air and dove towards Dov, so hot that the air around the Legend distorted everything around it. Dov grunted and tried to launch himself away at Lance's behest, but was helpless against the might of a Legend. The Bird easily snatched the squirming Dov in its great talons and suddenly hurled the Dragonite into the air.

"Psybeam!" He shouted to Dazed in a vain hope of keeping Dov in the battle. Dov was the last chance they had aside from Magnus, who still tried to catch up with Moltres and its burden.

Dazed's pendulum trembled and flailed wildly as more and more energy was poured into it. It shined with a bright rainbow of energy that collected around it before Dazed's eyes flashed and the Psybeam shot towards Moltres with pinpoint accuracy. Ash suddenly grinned. He knew how to at least try and hit Moltres now.

The Psybeam fizzled out as Moltres suddenly flared up. Ash winced as the Bird opened its beak and shot a stream of flame just large enough to engulf Dov. Lance quietly cursed and recalled Dov as the defeated dragon began his fall to the earth. Moltres screeched and angled towards Magnus, who was its last opponent in the air.

"Magnus, Dragon Ra –" Lance began, but fell silent when he realized that he was too late. Magnus had lashed out at Moltres with a tremendous cone of white, flashing fire and dove towards the great Bird with murder in his blazing eyes.

Moltres' eyes pulsed with interest as it slowed its flight and looked at the inferno that crackled at it. As Magnus and his snapping jaws and roaring flames grew closer, the Bird opened its beak and spat a true stream of flame, a hundred times larger than the precise, condensed blasts it had used previously.

Ash couldn't take his eyes off of Moltres as it breathed the inferno, white and pure of all weakness, straight into the arrogant Charizard and consumed it and Magnus' own flames within the conflagration and blotted out the entire sky with its power.

Moltres sang its song, the roar and crackle of destructive wildfires and cleansing flame all in one, as it swept towards Magnus and the inferno of its own creation. It was lost in the fire, as though it had become one with its element.

"Gyarados, Mael, Hydro Pump!" Lance shouted desperately. Gyarados, who was coiled up on the glossy stone nearest to Moltres' altar, roared its understanding and reared its massive, majestic head back and spat a river into the air. Mael did the same, although its Hydro Pump was far more condensed.

As the conflagration that burned the air itself and left the atmosphere nothing but a smoky haze that obscured everything from Ash's eyes was slowly extinguished and converted into scalding steam, Ash turned to Torrent. "Help them! Dazed, sense Moltres. Keep the rest of the team updated."

Torrent rumbled and added his efforts to that of Gyarados and Mael. The inferno that roiled high in the air seemed resistant to their attempts, however, and it seemed to hang in the air. Only the edges had actually been put out and the rest of the flames never stopped burning, fuelled by an otherworldly power.

He flinched in surprise as the crackling inferno suddenly vanished into nothingness, the embers of dancing flame absent of Moltres' immortal, indomitable strength. Ash's eyes widened in worry as he saw the smoking form of Magnus, no longer proud and arrogant, fall from it, covered in ash but not seriously injured. At least Moltres didn't want to hurt them.

Lance recalled Magnus in defeat before he issued a new set of orders to his remaining team. Mael and Gyarados rumbled and roared respectively and both determinedly fired dangerously powerful beams of gold and orange, intense as the sun itself, towards Moltres.

For once, Moltres didn't bother dodging or intercepting the Hyper Beams. It simply sang the song of fire and dived into the Hyper Beams. They impacted directly into the great Bird's lightly flickering chest but barely slowed the Legend down, dampened by its heat as they were.

Moltres swooped over the remnants of Lance's broken team and gently flapped its wings. Tiny twin orbs of golden flame erupted from the immortal fire of its body and angled towards Mael and Gyarados with perfect aim. Mael tried to shoot a Hydro Pump to extinguish the roar of the fires, but the fire ball reduced the massive jet of water to steam in moments before it struck Mael. Gyarados attempted to destroy the fire ball with a Hyper Beam, but the fire ball simply burned through the Hyper Beam and left tiny flecks of golden energy in its wake.

When the tiny fire balls, no more than eight inches around, struck their targets a great explosion wracked the earth. Smoke and enchantingly bright fire erupted from the two pokemon and the horrible force and energy released by the explosion made the entire mountaintop tremble lightly.

Lance was pale as he recalled the last two members of his active team, and Bagon, Gible, and Vibrava swiftly followed. He turned to Ash with an oddly subdued expression. "Will you recall your pokemon?"

Ash almost nodded, but hesitated. He knew that he would not put a scratch upon the Legend that lazily circled in the sky, its glowing eyes set upon Ash's team. Moltres hadn't even been injured in the battle against Lance's dragons, six of the most powerful pokemon in the world, and hadn't even tried.

But this was a decision that was up to his team. They knew what would result from their challenge as well as he did, but this was their fight. It was their blood and sweat that had been shed to reach this point. If they desired to get a taste of what battling a Legend, Fire made manifest, was like then he would not stop them.

Moltres sang its song high in the air, just below the cloud of smoke, born from a single stream of flame, that covered the heavens for miles around and shielded the mountain's peak from the intense light of the sun. Its great head, ablaze with a great trail of flame, peered down at Ash and his team with unblinking eyes.

It disappeared in a streak of flame and suddenly appeared on its altar of volcanic stone. The shrine flared up and heated until it should have melted into a puddle of lava. Moltres' resplendent form stood tall and proud upon the altar as it awaited Ash's decision. Ash briefly met its ancient, alien eyes of fire and light, but glanced away when it felt as though his very being would be torn apart by Moltres' power.

"Come back!" He shouted. Ash had a stoic expression on his face, which was hot and probably sunburned, as his friends slowly gathered around them. Lance walked away to give him privacy, although his movements were stiff and jerky. The Champion didn't seem able to accept his loss.

He met each of his family's eyes. Most had the shade of fear open upon them, but steely determination overwhelmed the basest of emotions. After being wrapped in a tight, happy hug, Ash noted that Tangrowth still seemed to have no idea what was going on, other than that there was a battle.

"I'm giving you a choice." He began quietly and seriously. His friends leaned in close and listened intently. Each knew the seriousness of his words. "I can recall you and we can leave this mountain and Moltres, or we can stand and fight. It's your choice. You're the ones that brought us this far."

Ash frowned. "I'll give you a minute to decide. Remember, this is your choice."

Moltres watched them intently for the minute that his friends deliberated. Ash tried to look back at it, but this close it was as though Moltres were a sun in itself. His skin painfully tingled even as Moltres' massive body quietly crackled in the background. He wasn't sure how much longer he could remain in the Legend's presence without bursting into flame himself.

Finally, Nidoking tapped him on the shoulder with a large, dull claw. Ash looked up at his first friend and smiled. "You've chosen?"

Nidoking grunted and nodded. His narrow black eyes were solemn, but a fire burned behind them.

Ash stood up straight. He hadn't realized that he had hunched over a bit during the short wait. The trainer gazed over at each of his friends. "Who wants to stay and battle?"

Infernus immediately stepped forward. Ash wasn't surprised. His friend's body was ablaze with fire through no effort of his own, inspired by Moltres' mere presence. Glee danced through Infernus' eyes even as the fire-type scraped his claws together. A rain of sparks sprayed through the air.

He knew that Infernus was aware of the futility of battling Moltres, but it didn't matter to the Magmar. Fighting was an integral part of his friend. Finding and battling against the mightiest of foes was one of Infernus' only goals, the other being to one day triumph over all and stand upon a defeated piles of his smoking foes.

Tangrowth waddled forward and happily waved his arms and vines around. He gurgled as his wide, innocent eyes smiled at Ash in a way unmatched by any face. Ash smiled back and gently patted the vine that wrapped around the trainer's shoulders. The grass-type's desire to fight was a surprise, but Ash should have expected it. To Tangrowth this was probably the greatest game he would ever play.

Torrent regally levitated to Ash, his warm scarlet eyes eager for battle. He had gained more strength than any of Ash's team during their month of training. The dragon-type wasn't lost amidst the powerful energies that writhed within his body. He had mastered them, and Ash knew that he wanted to test that strength.

Oz stepped forward after Infernus made his desire to battle the Legend known. She bared her fangs and glared at the fire-type, who snorted back in derision. Lightning crackled around her and she whirred at Ash. The Electabuzz windmilled her arms to build up more power until her lightning constantly danced across her fur.

Ash nodded at the electric-type. Over the last month he had learned that she was a lot like Infernus.

She enjoyed battle and sought out the most powerful of opponents. She refused to give up until she was beaten far beyond the point of submission, although she didn't have the same endurance and couldn't take a hit as well as Infernus. She would never stop fighting until she was the strongest.

Their only real difference was their dispositions. Infernus was brutal and oftentimes cruel. His cunning showed through in battle, but most of the time he was simply surly and only wanted to find new opponents. He could only accept strength.

Oz was kinder and more amenable, more protective of those that were weak. She wouldn't alienate any of the group, although she didn't have a good relationship with Nidoking and only respected Infernus for his sheer power.

So it wasn't a surprise that she wanted to fight, if only to finally have a chance to prove herself the equal of Infernus. Oz couldn't accept him as her better any more than he could accept her.

The rest of his friends stayed where they were.

Ash knew his friends well enough to understand their decision.

Nidoking enjoyed battling and testing his strength, but he was most concerned with the safety of Ash and the rest of the team. He was given great power when he evolved, but he was also made a protector. To battle a Legend was to go against every instinct he possessed to escape from the powerful presence.

Dazed didn't particularly enjoy fighting, although she was incredibly skilled at it. She preferred to watch. Her species was passive. They did not seek out fights, especially not with creatures that could reduce them to heaps of ash with nary a thought. Ash suspected that she had another reason as well.

Most psychics could sense the world around them. It was like echolocation, only mental. Anything in their vicinity that was of their reality was open to their gaze, although Ash didn't really understand the specifics or how they visualized it. Moltres' presence and might were probably clear as day to Dazed, even if it had placed shackles upon itself. She wouldn't want to fight something that didn't destroy them only due to its own willpower.

Bruiser wouldn't want to endanger Seeker, Ash, or the rest of the team. He had a disposition similar to Nidoking's, if less willing to resort to violence. The Machoke had great strength at his disposal, but it couldn't be used effectively against Moltres. A battle with Moltres had every chance that Seeker could be harmed in the crossfire.

Ash frowned. It looked like the majority wanted to battle the Legend that patiently rested atop its altar, which was visible only as a dark silhouette amongst Moltres' inferno.

"I won't make any of you fight if you don't want to." He told his friends. "Just tell me if you want me to recall you."

None of his friends made any movement. Ash nodded seriously. "Alright, then. Nidoking, Oz, I want you two to hit Moltres with Thunderbolt. Try to keep it distracted."

Nidoking and Oz grunted and whirred. Lightning danced down the length of Nidoking's long horn.

"Torrent, if Moltres stays still long enough hit it with Draco Meteor. Otherwise, just use Dragon Pulse. Hydro Pump won't do anything." Ash instructed. "Tangrowth, use Ancient Power whenever you can. Make sure you can try and escape its flames."

Torrent rumbled and dipped his great head. Tangrowth gurgled happily and bounced up and down on his red feet. His vines wriggled in excitement.

"Dazed, can you sense Moltres?" Ash inquired. At her slow, slightly pained nod, he continued. "Try and hit it wherever it goes. Show the others where it is, if you can."

Dazed nodded. Her eyes burned and her pendulum trembled. Ash smiled at the psychic-type before he turned to the last member of his team.

"Infernus…" He began, not really sure what to tell his friend. Infernus could survive Moltres the best out of all of them, but he didn't have much that could hurt the Bird. Not that the rest of his friends did either. "Attack it. Draw its attention. Keep it away from the other members of the team."

Infernus snarled and blazed up. He was indistinguishable from the flames that engulfed his body now, living flame. Only his eyes, dark and filled with excitement, differentiated him from his element.

Ash turned towards Moltres, who had raised its majestic head. Its crest burned and swayed in the brutal winds awoken by Moltres' presence. Moltres' golden body burned brighter for a moment as it shifted. It knew Ash's decision.

"Spread out before you attack." Ash ordered his friends. "We're going to make it work for its victory."

His friends roared or signaled their understanding before they spread out along the peak. Ash idly wiped away the beads of sweat that dripped from his hot forehead. He ignored his burning skin. This wouldn't last much longer. He could stay strong for his friends.

It only took an instant for him to note where his friends were. They were spread out along the massive slab of ebony stone, far away from each other so that Moltres wouldn't be able to defeat the entire team with a single flap of its roaring wings.

Ash barely noticed that Lance stepped up next to him as he looked at Moltres, who remained atop its blazing altar. Fire licked around its body, immortal and powered by the Bird of Fire itself.

He took a deep breath before he met Moltres' smoldering eyes and shouted, "Now!"

Moltres vanished in a column of flame as twin bolts of electricity crackled directly at it. The air was warped by its heat to the degree that he couldn't accurately place where the Thunderbolts struck. Their bright light was refracted to the point of confusion.

The Fire Bird moved slowly as it glided over to Tangrowth. Moltres shrieked as it reared its great head back, crest bright as the Avian released a tiny column of flame, dull compared to the bright trails of fire it had spat at Lance's team, straight at Tangrowth.

"Ancient Po—" Ash began, but Tangrowth had already swept his rubbery arms upward. Twin spheres shined from atop the grass-type's "hands" as the glossy black stone in front of him jutted out of the ground.

Ash managed to spot the lick of flame effortlessly burn through the wall of stone and leave it a molten mass of cherry lava before it engulfed Tangrowth and exploded. He instantly recalled his friend. Tangrowth was tough and more resistant to fire than most grass-types as a result of his thick shell of vines, but he couldn't take even the weakest of attacks from a Legend.

"Hit it!" Ash shouted as loudly as he could, aware that it was possible to hit the Legend when it moved so slowly. His friends had gotten used to battling Lance's trio of Dragonite. Moltres didn't even try to reach that speed against his team. The Legend probably didn't think it needed to.

Its opinion was changed when twin Thunderbolts, a particularly intense rainbow-hued Psybeam, a compact, powerful Dragon Pulse, a Focus Blast, and a huge stream of flame shot at it with perfect precision. Ash grinned. Dazed had been able to network their minds and perfect their aim after all. To Dazed Moltres might as well have been a star. Now the rest of the team could see the Legend as clearly as she could.

Moltres' eyes pulsed as it lightly flapped its wings again, no surprise evident in its fiery eyes. The Legend vanished high into the sky, nothing of its presence left aside from the crackling stream of flames that didn't want to die.

Ash watched uneasily as the smoky cloud that hovered above the volcano flashed for a moment, a clear sign that Moltres had begun to move again. Embers around the size of his fist began to rain from the sky as Moltres suddenly dived from the heavens, a scream of fire in its throat and an inferno trailing behind its wings.

His friends did their best to hit Moltres, whom had only slightly increased its speed, but the heat it produced neutralized almost every attack. If a Thunderbolt struck too close or a Dragon Pulse threatened it, a few tendrils of flame would lash out from Moltres' burning wings and intercept the projectile.

He tightened his fists as Moltres suddenly swept low, only a few dozen feet above the volcanic plateau, and carried an inferno behind it that blazed over the stone. It somehow didn't melt the glossy obsidian stone, but only left it white hot in its wake. Ash frowned. The stone should have been reduced to a heap of slag.

Ash had no time to think on it as he saw Moltres' inferno race at Bruiser. Even as Moltres angled itself back into the sky and the flames behind it weakened until it was nothing more than a particularly dangerous natural fire Ash raised Bruiser's pokeball and recalled his friend. Bruiser was tough, but that would have defeated him instantly.

"Dazed, take the others away if Moltres attacks them!" Ash shouted as the embers began to draw close to the ground. He paid them no attention. The wind storm that whipped around the peak of Mt. Ember seemed to angle the burning cinders away from him and Lance, driven by a power greater than Ash could comprehend.

He couldn't tell if Dazed heard him or not, but he could only hope. Ash held on tightly to his cap as he watched the Fire Bird launch itself towards Nidoking. Dazed vanished in a tiny flash of light, but she never reappeared with Nidoking as Moltres flew above the poison-type's position.

Ash grit his teeth and growled as he recalled Nidoking and Dazed as quickly as possible. Nidoking could probably resist Moltres' weaker flames for a while thanks to his armor, but Dazed couldn't stand the heat. Her shields would probably shatter at the slightest touch of Moltres' fire.

As he clipped his friends' pokeballs to his belt, Moltres angled towards Oz. It seemed as though the Bird had tired of their game. Moltres wasn't playing with them any longer. Oz defiantly windmilled her arms and fired several Thunderbolts in the span of a second at Moltres, but the Bird simply dove straight into them before its weakening conflagration swallowed Oz whole.

He sighed and recalled Oz. Moltres simply launched itself high into the air and sought out its next victim.

With Oz's defeat, Torrent was the prime target. He helplessly fired Dragon Pulse after Dragon Pulse after Moltres. Without Dazed's assistance, the Kingdra was unable to accurately pinpoint Moltres' location in the roaring inferno that raced throughout the dimmed sky. Each of his Dragon Pulses were aimed well, but they never so much as touched the Fire Bird.

"Hydro Pump." Ash called out with a false calm. Although his heart pounded within his chest and his skin felt as though it would turn to ash, he couldn't seem to put any sort of fear or emotion into his words. The situation was too otherworldly for that.

Torrent's rear fins twitched in confusion, but he did as Ash asked. The dragon-type spat an immense stream of water straight into Moltres as the Bird flashed through the air. It missed Moltres, but did as Ash had hoped and managed to extinguish some of the flames that followed the Bird.

A tiny grin worked its way onto his face when most of the fires were extinguished and transmuted into steam. It would hurt Torrent, but not so much as the raw fire. His armor could protect much better against scalding steam than flames fuelled by a Legend.

That grin ebbed and died when the steam suddenly reignited, the water instantly evaporated by Moltres' presence. He scowled when Torrent was suddenly swallowed in fire, although he cut his friend's pain as short as possible by recalling him.

Moltres sang its song of fire once more as its flames slowly died out. Within a few seconds its inferno had vanished into oblivion and only the Bird itself was left. The Legend elegantly landed atop its massive altar once more, the touch of its black, molten talons enough to send cherry veins of heat throughout the black idol.

It bowed its head to Ash and Lance, as though it hadn't defeated both powerful teams without taking so much a scratch in turn. Lance bowed back, his face still pale from his overwhelming defeat, but Ash frowned and glanced around the mountain top.

Where was Infernus?

He felt uneasy. Infernus had vanished after the initial volley of attacks that Dazed had guided. Ash hadn't noticed then, but it was obvious now. It wasn't something that he liked. His friend should have been in the midst of the fighting.

Perhaps he had simply been dispatched without Ash's notice. His camouflage had activated when they'd set foot atop this hallowed mount. It had only strengthened as Moltres and the heat the Legend carried with it made their appearance.

Ash shrugged and reached for Infernus' pokeball. He'd just recall his presumably unconscious friend and pay his respects along with Lance. This would be one of the most memorable experiences of his life. Not many met a single Legend, let alone three. Even fewer had actually battled one, much less survived the experience. Moltres had given him and Lance a great gift, one unmatched by any material boon.

He suddenly noticed a flicker of movement. Ash's eyes widened when he saw Infernus, ablaze in a cloak of blue fire, stand from the heap of burning stone that Moltres had left when the Bird defeated Tangrowth.

Infernus was silent as he revealed his presence. Along with the flames that roared up and down his body, he was covered with lava. He possessed an armor of thick, oozing black magma laced with veins of bright orange heat. Drops of it fell from him as he quietly snarled and suddenly vanished with a loud flash of light and a crack of sound.

"No." Ash whispered, stunned at Infernus' actions as he saw the fire-type appear directly atop Moltres' long, elegant neck. The Bird's fiery eyes pulsed with surprise and fury as the Magmar materialized and spat a huge fireball into Moltres' neck before he began to beat on the Legend with fists ablaze with flame. He wouldn't have been surprised if it was the first time Moltres had ever felt the emotion. It seemed to know everything that would happen before it happened.

His friend was invisible to Ash as Moltres suddenly removed all of its self-imposed shackles.

The Bird's eyes shifted from a warm red to a furious, pounding white. Moltres' body shifted from mundane, lustrous feathers ablaze with gentle wisps of gold, red, and white flame into living fire, the Incarnation of the element itself. Its crest shot high into the sky and the heavens began to rain fire upon the world.

Moltres' legs and talons began to melt under their own heat, but the hardened lava continually reformed from the Legend's terrible power. The altar trembled and grew white hot until it was a perfect facsimile of the furious Legend that stood atop it, the roughly hewn stone's details invisible from the impossibly bright light.

The Avatar of Flame pointed its head high to the world and sang its song once more. But instead of the gentle power of the song it sang during their battle, this song split the air and made Ash's bones tremble. Its terrible power revealed the true essence of Moltres and Fire itself, of the horrible wildfires and the heat that roiled deep beneath the earth, of the inherently destructive power of the element.

Ash gasped as the weight of Moltres' presence struck him. The air grew unbearably hot and forced him to the knees, although he feared that soon the entire outcropping he stood upon would melt into the heart of the volcano. It was difficult to breathe and his lungs were scorched, but Ash was still aware enough to return Seeker when he heard the Zubat squeak pitiably from his pack.

Lance fell next to him, although he managed to stay on his feet. It was clear that the Champion's strength would falter soon. His face was contorted into pained determination and his body trembled violently as Moltres' fury was wreaked upon the world.

As great embers and droplets of fire began to rain from the sky and the dormant volcano they stood upon rumbled and shook chaotically beneath them, Moltres shrieked and vanished into the sky, indistinguishable from the flame that appeared around it. The chasm that led to the heart of Mt. Ember roared and a mix of fire and lava exploded out of it from thousands of feet below, propelled by Moltres' anger. Smoke and volcanic gases belched from the volcano's mouth along with the flames.

After encountering the Creature, Ash never though that he would find another entity to fear so greatly. Mewtwo was terrifying, cold reason and indoctrination imbued into the form of Mew with all the power to match. It had been insanely devoted to the Rocket cause from what Ash could see and would do anything within its immeasurable power to further it.

Moltres was different. It was gentle, a benefactor to life around it. The Fire Bird held its power in check. It slept in the heart of the volcano and held itself far away from any significant centers of civilization.

To see what Moltres was truly capable of was like the realization that a warm, comforting candle could easily grow into a wildfire.

Ash wheezed as the air grew dark and polluted with smoke and smog. His eyes stung and his skin was flecked with ash and soot, but he was helpless to stop looking at Moltres as the Bird rose high into the air. Every wing beat sent great swathes of flame, hundreds of feet long, throughout the air.

Moltres shrieked again and the pressure grew worse. Ash fell to the hot ground and hissed in pain as uncovered skin met the sizzling stone. He could barely struggle in a single breath. His lungs felt like they were being crushed even as he breathed in more volcanic gas.

His mind and vision slowly grew fuzzy, and his thoughts became more erratic as he saw Moltres' body become lost in the inferno, no hint of mortal flesh or mundane material left in its corporeal form. It had transcended human or pokemon limits.

The terrifying thing was that Ash could feel the pressure growing even more powerful. Moltres hadn't even revealed its full power yet, but the volcano trembled and spewed ash, fire, and lava even as the entire sky erupted in conflagration after conflagration from Moltres' wing beats.

Ash gasped helplessly and tried to hide his eyes as the winds began to pick up as well. Soot and gas were mixed together as a twister began to form on the previously dormant volcano's peak, an enormous column that sparked into a blaze as Moltres flapped its wings again and released a great torrent of fire into the world. It refused to die and continually blazed without any natural source of fuel.

Moltres sang one last time before Ash spotted a humanoid form, small in comparison to the Fire Bird in all of its glory, fall off. The Bird angled its burning head down and spat an enormous stream of flame, so intense that it was pure white and made Ash's face grow even hotter and so large that it could have been mistaken for the eruption of the volcano itself.

He cried out and lurched forward, all concerns about the burning stone pressed against his skin gone as he saw Infernus engulfed in flame as hot as the sun. Ash grimaced. Rage, horror, and sadness washed over him in equal amounts as Infernus vanished into the light.

Ash's eyes burned and he helplessly reached out, as though he could do something to help his friend. A horrible lump grew in his throat and everything seemed to slip into a haze. He was vaguely aware of someone yelling. It took a few moments before he dimly realized that he was the source.

"No. No." He stated disbelievingly, eyes locked onto the cone of white flame. Infernus could easily survive in a sea of magma, but Moltres transcended physical limits. Its true fire would probably be as deadly to Infernus as normal fire would be to most pokemon.

A heavy hand grabbed his shoulder in a comforting manner. Ash winced as he looked back and saw Lance, whose face was set into a sympathetic grimace. The Champion was lightly burned, although his garments were resistant enough to keep the heat from searing his body. He was suddenly aware of the heat again, even as his eyes blurred and his stomach twisted with grief.

"I'm sorry." Lance coughed out. He gripped Ash's shoulder, which trembled underneath the strain of Moltres' presence and the emotional turmoil that ripped through his mind and body, and used his other hand to unclasp his cape. Ash stared at the long sheet of fabric as Lance offered it to him. "Take it. It'll keep you from being burned."

Ash barely realized what was going on as he took the cape and wrapped it around himself. It had a strange effect. Although it made him even hotter for a brief moment the heat suddenly weakened, even if it was still horrible. More importantly it kept his vulnerable forearms and other exposed skin protected from the hot stone.

He couldn't find it in himself to speak through the lump in his throat, but dumbly nodded. Ash blankly stared at Moltres, or at least the great mass of roaring flame that veiled the Bird from his eyes.

Infernus was gone.

Ash couldn't believe it. Infernus –

A humanoid form, covered in flames that were not its own, tumbled from the inferno. The Fire snapped towards it and engulfed it once more, but Ash had seen enough that his hopes had been raised. Infernus wasn't conscious, but he hadn't been reduced to atoms by Moltres' fury. That was enough to snap him out of his numb state.

The inferno suddenly receded and the second sun that was Moltres became visible again. Flames coalesced back into the Bird's immense form, although it remained at the stage it was when the Bird had first revealed itself to the humans.

Ash breathed a sigh of relief as the heat died down and winds, no longer a furious tempest but gentle and soothing, quickly wiped the ash and toxic gas that spewed from the volcano's heart away. The mountain's peak could hardly be called comfortable, but it was no longer forbidding and deadly to ordinary life.

His heart stopped when he saw that Moltres carried something in its talons. Ash's eyes widened and he did his best to pull himself to his feet when he realized the crumpled form of Infernus was clutched by Moltres. Infernus was completely still and scalding hot liquid dripped from his body as Moltres' fiery form glided back to the altar, which still glowed a bright cherry red.

"Easy." Lance said quietly as he helped Ash up. The Champion left his cape draped around the boy.

"Thanks." Ash wheezed. His lungs still felt as though they were full of volcanic ash. He and Lance would have to get checked out before they left for Kanto.

The trainer was well aware of the minor burns that covered his forearms. He tried to keep them as motionless as possible lest pain cripple him. They didn't look too dangerous, but they were alit with searing pain. He knew that he'd have to get them checked out soon. Burns were particularly susceptible to infection and his looked moist and small blisters had formed.

He kept his arms as motionless as possible as he staggered forward. Lance, who had his own injuries, did his best to keep him steady as the trainer tried to move closer to Moltres, who stared down at him with its pulsing eyes.

The lump in Ash's throat grew larger as Moltres gently set Infernus onto the ground before the Bird flew to its altar once more. Infernus' camouflage didn't activate from the immense heat released by Moltres, even though he should have been nothing but a blur. His chest did not rise or fall. Fire did not emanate from him. The burning liquid that had fallen from his body did not spill anymore. It had hardened into blackened lava.

Ash choked back another cry. His fists tightened and he squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to block the sight of Infernus' limp body. It wasn't right. Infernus was a fighter. He was just asleep. He'd be up in no time. He would stand up and set the world aflame with his fire. He was fine.

He numbly reached for Infernus' pokeball. His friend was hurt. Infernus needed his help.

He clicked the button that would recall Infernus. The pokeball sparked with scarlet energy, but fizzled out. Ash's heart froze and his blood ran cold, but he clicked it again.


Ash clenched his fists tighter and clicked it over and over again, unable to accept what his mind was telling him. Infernus wasn't sucked into the pokeball – to safety. He stayed where he was, limp and unmoving at the Fire Bird's altar.

"No!" He shouted, desperation and anger loud and frantic in his tone. "Infernus, wake up! You're better than this! Get up." Ash ended in a small voice. "You can do it."

A hand, cool and comforting, grabbed his shoulder. Ash's eyes, which burned horribly and not with the dry, hot air, couldn't leave Infernus. He felt the lump in his throat become even worse even as his insides twisted horribly and he felt like he needed to throw up. This couldn't be happening. Infernus couldn't be dead. He was the toughest pokemon Ash had ever met. He would never give up, not to something as mundane as death.

"It's alright. It's alright." Lance said soothingly. There was horrible guilt and resignation in his voice, along with a hauntingly tone that showed he had been in this situation far too many times. Ash couldn't realize that. He could only focus on Infernus and the tendrils of smoke that rose from his body as his inner flames were extinguished.

"No it's not! Nothing is right!" Ash snapped, toxic anger in his words. He didn't care if Lance was the Champion of Indigo. It was the man's fault. If he hadn't been so stupid Infernus would be fine! He would be alive and fighting, not cold and limp. "This is your fault!"

Lance hung his head. His face was streaked with sweat and his hair had lost its bright luster. "I know." The Champion said quietly, guilt obvious. "I'm so sorry. But you have to calm down. Stop. Think."

Ash just snarled at the man and tore himself away from Lance's grasp. He bit back a scream of agony when he irritated his burns. Sweat had already begun to make their way inside of them to make a stinging pain, but that was nothing.

He staggered closer, but the heat grew to be too much. Lance pulled him back, despite Ash's frantic attempts to reach Infernus. He had to see his friend. He had to touch him. Maybe Infernus could still be saved. Pokeballs had malfunctioned before.

The trainer collapsed to his knees and stared at Infernus with hollow eyes. Infernus' eyes, still the same black but without the life and fire that burned so vividly behind them, were open and unseeing. Ash held back his tears, but a movement by Moltres tore his attention away for the briefest moments. The Bird spread its wings resplendently and looked down upon Ash.

Moltres sang softly, its song soft and sorrowful as it seemed to embrace Ash. He paused as he was filled with an inner fire, warm but not hot. It wrapped around him and froze him. He was silent as Moltres' song rang throughout the mountain's peak. Flames licked out from the Bird's shrine as Moltres' eyes pulsed.

The shrine glowed a pure, shining white as Moltres stared down at Infernus' immobile corpse. Moltres sang once more and caused every flame and remainder of their battle to surge upward, but not in a chaotic way. It was controlled, weak. The Bird's glowing eyes seemed to have sorrow within them, the most human emotion that Ash had ever seen from a Legendary.

Ash held his breath and watched with hot eyes as the hard black of Infernus' hardened blood slowly reverted to its glowing liquid state. He trembled as he watched more flames race from the altar to envelope Infernus' fallen corpse. Infernus was consumed by the flames and hidden from Ash's eyes.

His hopes rose high and everything else in the world vanished as he watched the flames grow brighter and brighter. Ash couldn't see Infernus' body, blinded as he was by the impossible fire, but he could do nothing but watched. Every hope and every wish he had ever made were focused upon this moment.

And then it ended. The flames died down and left Infernus' body in their wake.

Ash stepped forward hopefully, heedless of the heat, and examined Infernus the best he could.

He squeezed his eyes shut.

Infernus' life was not restored. The process looked to have begun, but it did not go beyond that point. His blood had reverted to its ordinary molten state, but his body remained lifeless. He had stopped smoking and a faint haze emanated from his body, but there was no rise to his chest and his eyes were glazed and dead. Infernus' inner fire had not been set ablaze anew.

Ash opened his eyes, but looked away. There wasn't any hope now. Infernus was gone.

The air grew hot, and both humans looked to Moltres with alarmed expressions. Moltres sang vibrantly as the Bird's great flames blazed even higher. Its eyes pulsed with energy locked away for untold millennia and the primordial Legend's song gained new strength.

Moltres stared down at Infernus' crumpled form before its long, straight beak of blackened lava snapped open and released an enormous stream of white flame, different from the other flames Moltres had used. It was not hot, but merely warm. It was not destruction, but energy and life, the other of the dual nature of fire.

Infernus' mortal shell was consumed in the eternal fire of Moltres. Ash watched with worried eyes, but couldn't move. Lance held him back and kept him from moving closer to Moltres' flames.

The Legend consumed the corpse with fire for a minute. Its fires grew more and more powerful even as the volcano began to rumble underneath Moltres' strength. Ash's stomach twisted more and more as Moltres' eyes pulsed with power, unsure whether or not whatever Moltres was doing would succeed.

Finally, it ended. Moltres' inferno ceased to be and the Bird raised its head proudly to sing once more. The melody coincided perfectly with the faint rumbling of Mt. Ember and the windstorm that swept over the peak. Ash's insides were warmed and vigor returned to his limbs as the flames finally cleared and he could see his friend.

He frowned when Infernus was revealed. His body was glowing, but not with heat or his normal flames. It was – no way.

Infernus' body pulled itself to its feet as evolutionary energy suffused it and left it garbed in a veil of white light. It trembled and huddled over as untold amounts of power tore its way through the Magmar's form and began the activation of latent genes and hyper-accelerated their expression.

The lumps that constantly emanated two flames wrenched themselves down to his shoulders and extinguished themselves. Another exploded from Infernus' forehead and set itself ablaze, even as the spines along his back shifted and melded themselves together. The six spines became four pink ones, although that wasn't evident thanks to the evolution's blinding light.

His red, rigid scales that plated his arms flattened in a swift motion and smoothed over into two long, tube-like arms. Infernus' hands split apart into rounded cannons, although a large scales covered the hole and large, dull claws enabled him to retain his dexterity. They were ordinary fists except for when he would use his cannons as weapons.

Infernus' shackles, which were rough and scratched from constant battle, smoothed over and fit tightly to his legs as they grew and shifted slightly. They bound themselves tightly to his limbs, protection against most physical attacks. It would take a lot to break them.

The flame pattern morphed from straight and curved lines to a diagonal pattern, all the better to blend in with. His tail stayed the same length, but grew much thicker. His tail flame flared suddenly, bright white from the energy that fuelled Infernus, and suddenly ignited to cover the entire tail in flames so thick and bright that the muscular limb wasn't even visible.

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